In March of 2020, the honorable John Lewis made a statement to commemorate the tragic events of Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday happened on March 7, 1965, as the police officers beat the peaceful protesters for crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The statement was a calling for all. It was a simple but powerful message, get into good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America. Rep. John Lewis let us know if we are going to make changes in this country, it was going to happen if we got into a little bit of trouble, but not all trouble is bad trouble.
Taking the call from John Lewis, an organization emerged on social media with the name Teachers for Good Trouble. The name caught the attention of many on social media, but their hardline stance and bold statement had people talking. They called for a National Teacher Sick Out Day on December 15. Their goal was to organize teachers around the country to skip out on work and rally to demand an end of standardized testing. Like many, I was taken aback by calling to have teachers miss teaching during a pandemic. So, I decided to reach out to the organization to learn more about the organization, the National Teacher Sick Out Day, and ultimately what they wanted to accomplish.
On Monday, December 14, a day before National Teacher Sick Out Day, I had the opportunity to speak with three members of the already growing group of Teachers for Good Trouble. Shivy Brooks and Noemi Pavon from Atlanta and Rakim Jenkins from New York agreed to take some time and speak with me, and after that hour, I had a better understanding of the good trouble they wanted to cause.
Like many skeptical of the approach to have teachers around the country skip school. I did not think that was a good idea, so when I asked why the National Teacher Sick Out Day, the answer was clear. The group wanted to get everyone’s attention. “Would we be on this Zoom if there was no walkout?” He was right because what got people’s attention was the organizing of a walkout. I must say for an organization that is less than a month old that had over 20,000 individuals signed up with their petition is remarkable accomplishment. It speaks to how teachers around the country want their voices to be heard when it comes to standardized testing.
The conversation about standardized testing is always a controversial topic and a hot topic. I recently wrote a piece asking educators and parents in Indianapolis how they felt about standardized testing. Hoosier Voices: Do You Think We Should Cancel Standardized Test This Year? I wanted to ask the group the same question: Why is standardized testing the fight you are taking up? Why is this the good trouble? They believe that during a pandemic, there is nothing standard about teaching and learning. They want freedom from standardized testing. In our hour-long conversation, this was the most passionate topic. Rakim Jenkins believes there is an opportunity gap happening right now. According to Rakim, we can do more creative things with our time. During this pandemic, we have a chance to revolutionize education and move forward if we move away from the standardized test.
My biggest skepticism of the group was in why they were against standardized testing. I have longed railed against standardized testing mostly because, in my opinion, it has never been a determining factor of the greatest of our children. I share with many others the idea that often, the test required for schools were racially biased. Shivy brought up in the conversation the historical context around testing. He talked about how Gibson began with the Alpha Beta test in the military. He is right in how that test and many tests today were created for Black people to be defined as intellectually inferior to their white counterparts. I use standardized tests as a data point, one data point in a collection of other data to help us drive the instruction necessary to help our children be successful and help drive our teaching. So, when I saw a demand to cancel standardized testing, especially during this time where we need all the information on our children’s academic progress, I had doubts whether this group was getting into good trouble.
When asked about the data, Noemi Pavon, a former teacher and principal and now a consultant for principals across the country cleared the air. “One big misconception right now with this movement is that we are trying to absolve teachers and schools from their responsibility of collecting data for students,” said Pavon. The goal of the movement is not to have teachers opt out from what they need to be doing. The movement is 100% about having the best interest of students at the center.
It was evident in my conversation; the fight against standardizing testing during the pandemic is one that I cannot get behind. Even though I disagree with them, I believe they have the best interest of the children and the profession at the center of the movement. They made it clear that National Teacher Sick Out Day is not a day off for teachers, which is not the only way teachers can be involved with the movement. The walkout is one way to engage. Other ways to engage in the movement included schools wearing yellow in solidarity. On their social media profiles, they could post the yellow box. They had individuals who shared curricula that teachers could teach instead to their students. They were honest that they do not have all the answers and are open to hearing from others on ways to improve this movement, but I did gain from them that this was a thought out plan that mobilized thousands of supporters across several large cities.
Finally, I asked the group about any backlash they have received on social media or anyone questioning their movement. Shivy Brooks made it clear the social media fight was not what they were about. “Going back and forth on Twitter is not the fight we are trying to have. We are trying to fight on the floor of the Congress; we are trying to fight on the floor of the state legislators; we are working to craft legislation with lawmakers now.” They wanted their message to be clear to all those who are questioning their motivation that this is about systematic change and legislative change.
While the organization pays homage to the great John Lewis in name, the goal is to do the same with action. Good trouble was about speaking up and speaking out. Those on the front line of the movement are speaking up about what they feel is an injustice against children and teachers. They are doing so at a great cost to them professionally in some cases. John Lewis stated, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” Teachers for Good Trouble believe that they should not be silent anymore. They are exercising their First Amendment Right, and to them, this is the most powerful lesson they can teach to their students that no standardized test could ever measure.
To learn more information about Teachers for Good Trouble visit their website, www.teachersforgoodtrouble.org. You can follow them on social media Twitter @tfgtmovement and on Instagram at teachersforgoodtrouble.